So then, you must never think that you have made yourselves wealthy by your own power and strength. Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power… Deuteronomy 8: 17
There’s nothing wrong with the satisfaction that comes from seeing our hard work pay off and enjoying the results of our efforts—financially or otherwise. There’s a healthy pride that comes from achieving our goals. The problem comes when we trust solely in ourselves. It’s an easy mistake to make. I’ve made it plenty of times.
From birth, I was always blessed with a sturdy physical build and a fairly quick mind. I was raised by parents who instilled a strong work ethic in me. It was easy to trust in my physical and reasoning abilities…until a car accident, followed by a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis left me permanently debilitated. I could no longer push myself physically. I ran into problems that were beyond my ability to solve by intellect alone.
That’s when I realized that although I thought I believed in God and trusted his power, I lived as if I trusted only in myself.
I was brought through times of helplessness. I learned to accept the help that was offered and provided. While grateful for the natural abilities I’d been given at birth, I learned to be even more grateful for the strength God gave me to accept my weakness. Even though I still forget at times, it’s much easier now to remember that it is God who gives me the power to do what he has in mind for me to do on any given day.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the strength to do what you have in mind for me to do today.
Reflection: What have you achieved in your life? What gifts enabled you to accomplish your achievements?
But the Lord says, “Can an ax claim to be greater than the one who uses it? Isaiah 10: 13; 15a
The emperor of Assyria probably was strong and wise and clever. He didn’t have to pretend he was weak and stupid and inept in order to recognize the true source of his abilities.
We don’t have to put ourselves down in the name of false humility. Denying our abilities is just as wrong as bragging. True humility is being honest about our strengths and our weaknesses. It’s recognizing that our abilities were God-given. Although we have free will, which means much of what we do depends on our own choices, there is so much that is beyond our control.
We did not create ourselves. We did not pick our parents, determine our genetic make-up, or the environment—or even the century and locale—we were raised in. All these internal and external factors had a hand in shaping our development.
An honest look at the world around us will tell us that we are not in control of the universe or even our tiny corner of it. But there is One Who is in control. What we achieve is partly up to us, and how we use—or don’t use—the abilities and opportunities God gives us.
Our best efforts are up to us. The outcome is never up to us. Our part is to do our best. When we do, we can let go of the rest. If it turns out well, we can take pride in our achievement without being egotistical, as long as we remember to thank the Giver for His gifts.
Prayer: Lord, help me recognize Your gifts to me.
Reflection: What have you accomplished? What gifts helped you accomplish it?
If we wanted to tell others what God has done for us, where would we begin? We should probably start by telling ourselves. Want to try it?
You might make a timeline. Turn a blank piece of paper so the widest part runs horizontally. About half-way down the page, draw a line from left to right across the entire sheet to represent your life from birth to the present.
Beginning with your earliest recollection from childhood, write the milestones or other significant memories in chronological order. Note the happy events on top of the line; note the hard times underneath the line.
Continue to review your life through your school years, your teens, early adulthood, and so on, noting both positive and negative times up through today.
Review your list. The blessings on top of the line may give you plenty to share when telling others what God has done for you, but don’t stop there.
Think about the items beneath the line. What got you through those challenges? The support and love of other people? That’s a blessing. The strength and willingness to keep plugging along when you felt like giving up or running away? That’s a blessing. An inspiring word or phrase you read or heard in a song at just the right moment? That’s a blessing, too. You get the idea.
Maybe the blessings that come in the midst of our pain are the sweetest. I’ve been richly blessed with family, friends, career, and more, but the consolations I treasure most are the times God met me in my sorrow, fear, grief, and desperation. I know for sure that God’s blessings got me through those struggles because in those dark times I had absolutely no resources of my own.
C. S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures…but shouts in our pain.” When has God whispered or shouted to you?
Prayer: Loving God, open our eyes to all your blessings.
Reflection: What has God done for you?
“I will renew my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord. I will forgive all the wrongs you have done, but you will remember them and be too ashamed to open your mouth.” The Sovereign Lord has spoken. Ezekiel 16: 62-63
Why is it so hard for us to accept forgiveness as the gift that it is? We want to deserve forgiveness or earn it. We can’t. If we deserve it, it’s exoneration, not forgiveness.
When we try to excuse or deny the hurt we’ve caused others or the damage we’ve done to ourselves or to our relationship with God, it gets us nowhere. When we create alibis to prove what we did wasn’t so bad, it does us no good. When we acknowledge our wrongs and are truly sorry, God forgives us. We’re better off honestly acknowledging our weaknesses. Then we can recognize the truth: forgiveness is about God’s goodness, generosity, and love, not our worthiness. We don’t have to open our mouths except to say thank you.
Once we accept God’s forgiveness as the free and precious gift it truly is, there’s no reason to keep wallowing in our misdeeds and mistakes. We can stop going on and on about it. We don’t need to dwell on our sins once we have honestly laid them at God’s feet. Once forgiven, we are free to move on and do likewise.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of your forgiveness.
Reflection: Can you trust God’s forgiveness enough to let go of your regrets?
Be grateful for the good things that the Lord your God has given you and your family… Deuteronomy 26: 11
Counting our blessings can change our attitudes and enrich our lives.
When a tractor trailer hit my car I ended up painfully bedridden for months. It was horrible. Would I want to go through it again? Never! Am I grateful that I did? Absolutely! I’m not denying the pain and challenges, but they couldn’t keep God from operating in my life. When I remembered to look for the good, I felt better.
- The accident struck just after I’d gotten in shape by working out. Had my muscles not been so toned, the internal damage to my body would have been much worse.
- I got to see my husband in a new light as he stepped up to take over my household responsibilities while I was incapacitated.
- Being out of work, I had plenty of extra time to meditate and pray. I’m grateful that God didn’t reject my prayers even though, in a way, I was praying because “I had nothing better to do.”
- Insurance and disability benefits helped cover the loss of my paycheck.
- I was forced to stop micro-managing my teenage daughter. It was a bumpy road, but we both learned things we needed to learn. Our relationship ended up being healthier for it.
- I found out my self-worth doesn’t dependent on how much I accomplish. Like everyone else, I have worth simply because God loved me into existence.
God works for our best interest in life’s pleasures and in its challenges. We don’t have to deny our pain. We also don’t have to let it stop us from being grateful.
Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to your blessings.
Reflection: What good things can you thank God for today?
Let the giving of thanks be your sacrifice to God… Psalm 50: 14a
Gratitude’s not the first thing we think of when we think of sacrifice. Where does gratitude fit in with our traditional Lenten offerings of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer?
Fasting: When we give thanks to God we fast from the ego-feeding illusion of independence. We fast from the presumption that we are self-sufficient. The truth is that we cannot, on our own, even guarantee our next breath. Gratitude means sacrificing the comfortable notion of self-reliance. Recognizing ourselves as recipients of God’s gifts puts us in vulnerable position of recognizing our dependence on our Creator.
Almsgiving: We can’t give what we don’t have. Whether we donate financially or through acts of service and charity, our giving is sharing what we ourselves have received. Our talents, skills, and finances—including the ability to earn a living—are all gifts from God. If we think of giving to others as passing on what we’ve received, we can’t help but feel gratitude. Offering our personal or financial resources to those who need them is gratitude in action. We sacrifice self-centeredness and self-indulgence when we consider the other people we share this planet with.
Prayer: Prayer involves a sacrifice of precious time in our often hectic days. We make room in our crowded agendas to reflect on God’s sacrificial love for us and to offer our thanks. During this Lenten preparation for Easter, we think about the sacrifice Jesus made for us. He willingly accepted the agony in Gethsemane and his suffering and death on the cross for love of us. He offered his life to do for us what we could never do—redeem ourselves from the power of sin. What could be more natural than to express our gratitude in prayer?
Prayer: Source of All Good, thank you for all I have and all I am.
Reflection: What gifts has God given you? How can you offer him your gratitude today?
During Mass today, I noticed a father steal a glance toward the back of the church where the children’s choir stood. He stole a moment away from the priest and the altar to look back at where his little girl or boy was singing. Maybe he was glancing back to reassure his child of his support. Maybe he was just peeping back in pride. Maybe a little of both.
Distracted from worshipping God? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Jesus taught his disciples that welcoming a child is also welcoming Jesus, and God the Father. That fleeting glance away from the altar toward his child took only a few seconds, but was packed with love for that child, and, no doubt, for Jesus and the Father, too. I don’t remember today’s homily, but I do remember the message of love my heart received.
We were all little children, once upon a time. God loved us then and loves us now. Maybe he lovingly glances at us as we perform our jobs at work, or school, or home. Not to catch us messing up, but just because he can’t resist watching us. I’m sure that father at Mass today didn’t care if his little one hit a wrong note or two, or fidgeted, or scratched an itchy nose. Our best is good enough for our loving Father. Our imperfections can’t dampen his love.
Prayer: Father, thank you for lovingly watching over us.
Reflection: What would happen if you immersed yourself in awareness of God’s love for even just a moment?
For a child has been born for us, a son is given to us…and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9: 6 (NRSV)
Good news! A savior was born into our dark and hurting world—and what a savior! This son of God is given to us. We can’t earn or deserve this blessing—it’s a pure gift of love. That should delight and humble all of us.
God loves us beyond comprehension, warts and all. How amazing that someone who has tasted heaven should take on our humanity and subject himself to human limitations, indifference, and contempt—all because he loves us. No wonder he’s called Wonderful.
He is Counselor supreme. One with the Father, Jesus has all wisdom and wants to share it with us. Our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, speaks to our hearts, when we’re open to receive it and quiet enough to listen.
Jesus is not just holy man, but Mighty God. We may be up against circumstances, forces, and problems bigger than we are, but no problem is bigger than God. When we feel small and powerless, we can rely on his strength.
Everlasting Father: God’s son conquered death for us. He was willing to take on flesh, knowing he would sacrifice that flesh-life to share eternal, everlasting life with us.
Prince of Peace: The peace that Jesus offers does not depend on comfortable circumstances, but on our connection with him. His peace passes understanding. The world can’t give that peace or take it away.
We have good reason to rejoice today, for unto us is given everything our hearts could need: a wonderful, powerful, everlasting counselor who wants to fill our hearts with peace and love.
Which aspect of our Lord’s greatness do you rejoice in most today?
Glory to God in the highest. Joy to the world. Merry Christmas!
Protect me, O God; I trust in you for safety.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; all the good things I have come from you.”
Those who rush to other gods bring many troubles on themselves. I will not take part in their sacrifices; I will not worship their gods.
You, Lord, are all I have, and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands.
How wonderful are your gifts to me; how good they are!
I am always aware of the Lords’ presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me. Psalm 16: 1-6; 8
When I’m afraid, this psalm never fails to comfort me. It becomes easier to trust in God for safety when I remind myself of all the good things I have in my life. It helps to recognize that, one way or another, they all come from God. Even when life is painful or chaotic I can find things to be grateful for if I’m willing to look. Although I might feel like I need a microscope to find them, I can see that willingness to look for the good is a gift in itself.
For today, I have no interest in joining those who rush to other gods, mainly because I’ve done it and brought troubles on myself. I’ve relied on my physical comfort, strength, and health. I’ve trusted my intellect, employment, and other people. All of these have let me down at one time or another. I can use and enjoy these blessings, but I can’t afford to make idols of them anymore. My security is shaky if I do. There is only One who has never let me down. If the resources I lean on are taken away, I have to believe God will provide some other way. He always has.
God truly is all I have and He does give me all I need. I found that out when my first marriage ended and an MS attack left me unable to take care of myself. Business as usual was not possible. I didn’t see how I could possibly manage without the supports I was used to. I was way out of my comfort zone and terrified. I didn’t get everything I wanted and it didn’t come on my timetable, but somehow I got everything I needed. Faith moved from my head to my heart. It wasn’t a pretty process, but God got me through to the other side. He truly was all I had during that time, and He truly was all I needed. My future is safe in His hands.
How about you?
- Who or what are you trusting in today?
- Can you trust in God for safety?
- What good things are in your life? Can you see them as coming from God?
- What “other gods” have you rushed to? What have you gained or lost in the process?
- How is God giving you all you need?
- How can you call to mind God’s presence when circumstances are shaky?
- Why can awareness of God’s presence in the midst of trouble bring you peace?
What does living in the grace of God look like? It probably means we stop trying so hard to earn God’s love. Grace is a gift, not a salary. We don’t have to do a single thing to be worthy of it but we have it nonetheless. Accepting love and forgiveness that we didn’t earn—that we couldn’t earn—doesn’t mean we don’t pay a price. The price is humility. Not a “shucks, I’m not worth it” or groveling self-loathing, but a healthy recognition that God loves us exactly as we are, warts and all
A spiritual director once told me, “God is crazy in love with you.” How humbling. God knows all about me, including the things I’m not too proud of. And he loves me anyway. It’s too good to be true, but it is. Christ was willing to give his life for little old me and for every one of us—even if we don’t care or don’t even notice. Our indifference or arrogance cant stop his love, although they might stop us from experiencing it.
What does living in the grace of God look like? Here’s a few things that come to mind. Please feel free to add to this list.
- Awareness of God’s grace would keep us humble—a good antidote to judging or looking down on others.
- It’s a good antidote to looking down on ourselves, too. We’re loved by a perfect God! What more do we need?
- We don’t have to prop up our self-worth by tearing others down or showing off.
- We don’t need to pretend we’re better than we are.
- We don’t need to impress anybody, least of all God. We can afford to be honest because that is how God loves us.
- We don’t have to be stingy or self-centered. We can afford to reach out to others in love.
- We don’t have to beat ourselves up over past mistakes and wrongs. God knows all about our past and still loves us. He’s waiting to forgive us when we turn to him.
- No need to count the sins of others to avoid looking at our own.
Living under the grace of God sounds a lot like heaven on earth, and it’s free for the taking. After all, that’s why they call it grace. We don’t have to hoard it. We can afford to share it with others.
Prayer: Lord, your grace truly is amazing.
Reflection: How can living in the grace of God change your day today?